BOISE – A young Hunter S. Thompson went to Idaho to write about Ernest Hemingway and decided to take a piece of his hero home with him – a set of trophy elk antlers.
More than half a century later, the gonzo journalist’s wife returned the antlers to Hemingway’s house in the mountain town of Ketchum.
“He was embarrassed that he took them,” Anita Thompson told the Associated Press on Thursday, noting the deep respect her husband had for Hemingway’s work. “He wished he hadn’t taken them. He was young, it was 1964, and he got caught up in the moment.
“He talked about it several times, about taking a road trip and returning them.”
She gave back the antlers Aug. 5 to The Community Library, which helps catalog and preserve items in the residence where the author took his own life. It’s now owned by the Nature Conservancy.
In 1964, Hunter Thompson, then 27, came to Ketchum when he was still a conventional journalist. He had not yet developed his signature style, dubbed gonzo journalism, that involved inserting himself, often outrageously, into his reporting and that propelled him into a larger-than-life figure.
Thompson was writing a story for the National Observer about why the globe-trotting Hemingway shot and killed himself at his home three years earlier at age 61. Thompson attributed the suicide in part to rapid changes in the world that led to upheavals in places Hemingway loved most – Africa and Cuba.
Even Ketchum, which in the 1930s and 1940s attracted luminaries such as Gary Cooper, had fallen off the map of cafe society by the late 1950s, Thompson wrote.
In the story, later collected in his book “The Great Shark Hunt,” he noted the problem of tourists taking chunks of earth from around Hemingway’s grave as souvenirs.
Early in the piece, he wrote about the large elk antlers over Hemingway’s front door but never mentioned taking them.
For decades, the antlers hung in a garage at Thompson’s home near Aspen, Colorado.
“One of the stories that has often been told over the years is the story of Hunter S. Thompson taking the antlers,” said the library’s Jenny Emery Davidson, who helped accept the trophy. “These are two great literary figures who came together over the item of the antlers.”
Davidson said historian Douglas Brinkley, who spoke at the library in May and was familiar with the antler story after interviewing the writer, contacted Anita Thompson. She called the library on Aug. 1.
Davidson said the antlers have since been shipped to a Hemingway grandson in New York who wanted them.
It’s not clear if the antlers came from an elk killed by the author, who was a noted big game hunter, or if they were a gift.
Sean Hemingway didn’t respond to emails or phone messages seeking comment.
Like Ernest Hemingway, Thompson ended his own life by shooting himself, dying in 2005 at age 67 at his Colorado home.
His widow wants to turn the house where he lived and worked into a museum, planning to open it next year by invitation only. Like Hemingway’s home, it’s much the same as it was when Thompson was alive.
“I couldn’t open it with a clear conscience knowing there’s a stolen pair of antlers,” Anita Thompson said, noting the theft was unusual behavior, even by her husband’s standards.
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